Anxiety is a normal reaction to change and children experience change frequently. This is a great article with useful and concrete phrases and strategies to help little ones with their worry and anxiety.
During his first year of preschool, my 3-year-old spent every morning drawing. While the other kids were doing seemingly academic activities like tracing letters and singing counting songs, my son stuck with colored pencils.
Fast-forward one year later; my son has branched out -- way out! He completes puzzles, counts abacus beads, and writes his name in straight letters. Suddenly we've shifted from picture books at bedtime to Charlotte's Web. "When," I thought, "did he learn all this?"
Well, he probably learned it while drawing. Drawing helps kids boost their confidence, improve fine motor skills, get reading-ready, and hone their critical-thinking ability, says Kenneth Wesson, Ph.D., an educational consultant in neuroscience in San Jose, California, who has studied the role of the brain in making art.
Although the arts have traditionally been considered fun frills, they're actually a central piece in the education puzzle. And it's not just the visual arts. Music can help with math and reading; dance sets a foundation for physical health and also furthers self-awareness; acting can boost vocabulary. Art can impact kids' emotional and social lives too. "It lets kids take risks without failure and builds confidence," says Joseph M. Piro, Ph.D., professor in the department of curriculum and instruction of Long Island University in Brookville, New York.
While tightened household budgets might make violin lessons a stretch, arts instruction need not be formal or pricey. You can expose your kids to dance, music, and drama at home, with stuff you already have. We've talked to researchers, arts experts, and teaching artists to come up with activities for kids of all ages.
The fact that dance builds strength, agility, and flexibility is a given, says Maria Suszynski, executive director of Wellspring/Cory Terry & Dancers, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but it also boosts confidence and problem-solving skills, and teaches kids about teamwork.
Toddlers: Jumpin' Jellybeans
Crank up the music, and let your kid have ants in his pants! Explore every aspect of movement -- hopping, leaping high and low, wiggling fast and slow. Following simple sequences gives toddlers' short-term memory a workout and develops body awareness.
Preschoolers: The Shoebox Game
Your child pretends she's in a shoe store where every kind of shoe -- antigravity boots, ice skates, shoes that have gum on the soles, or winged sandals -- makes her dance in a different way. This stretches a child's imagination and encourages her to see the world from different angles, says Theresa Purcell Cone, Ph.D., assistant professor of health and exercise science at Rowan University, in Glassboro, New Jersey.
School-Age Kids: Human Sculptures
Your child dances around you while you make a shape with your body and freeze. Have her build onto your "sculpture" with her own body, perhaps forming a letter or an animal using creativity to solve "problems," says Dr. Cone. ("How can my arms be a new animal? Oh, I can raise them like butterfly wings!")
Kids have been finger-painting and scribbling for eons, but only recently did researchers realize all its ripple effects. Dr. Wesson has found that visual art engages many areas of a child's brain, including the parts that control decision making, action planning, physical movement, and memory. Attention to detail is a critical component in reading skills too.
Toddlers: Pudding Painting
Separate a batch of vanilla pudding into a few small bowls and add a drop of different food coloring to each. Dress (or undress!) your child for a mess, and let him "paint" on a surface covered with a plastic sheet. At this age, art should involve many senses, says Susanna Carrillo, founder of Paper Scissors Oranges, an art studio for children in Darien, Connecticut. It's also a lesson on color mixing -- red + blue=purple!
Preschoolers: Macaroni Mosaics
Mix raw pasta with food coloring or liquid watercolor in a bowl. Spread on a tray to dry, then let kids glue it onto cardboard to make picture frames. Besides emphasizing fine motor skills and the fact that you can make art out of anything, these types of projects provide a fun way for getting kids to stay focused and on task to complete a project -- skills they'll need later in math, reading, and complex problem-solving.
School-Age Kids: Life-Size Self-Portraits
Have your child lie down on a large piece of craft paper so you can trace the outline of her whole figure. Then have her sketch in the details of her hair, face, clothes, skeleton, internal organs, whatever else she chooses. As she draws, she may need to examine herself in a mirror, which develops her ability to observe and discriminate details -- a key skill in reading comprehension. Hang the image on her bedroom door.
Pretending to be someone else seems like pure play, but it actually builds serious brainpower. "Acting fosters children's language proficiency, vocabulary development, and storytelling skills," says Wendy Mages, Ed.D., an independent researcher in human development and psychology.
Toddlers: Take a Trip
Flip through a photo album and help your child relive an experience. Encourage him to perform the actions along with the story and use sensory-rich details, like how the apple in a photo smelled and tasted. Having a mental picture of what words mean is a critical skill for new readers.
Preschoolers: ID the Object
Collect a bunch of items from around the house and put them in a bag. Take turns choosing an item, and try to answer the question "What else can you imagine it is?" by using the object in new and creative ways. (Perhaps the colander becomes a hat or a face mask.) Besides providing a cute photo op, this will help your child learn to think on her feet.
School-Age Kids: Bring Books to Life
Read your child's favorite book while he performs the actions. Explain how to dramatize tricky words. ("Gnash" is a toughie in Where the Wild Things Are.) Or pick two characters and put on the "play" together, trying to recall what happens next without the book. Invite an audience (stuffed animals count).
Things like beat counting, key signatures, and note values draw upon math. But researchers are finding that music may help with reading too. In one study, children who had musical instructions twice a week for three years scored higher in reading skills than kids who didn't get music lessons.
Toddlers: Echo, Echo
Even kids too little to memorize lyrics can echo you during a call-and-response song. Using a standard like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," insert your child's name and favorite things, and have her repeat after you. This builds strong memory and listening skills, says Katherine Damkohler, executive director of Education Through Music, a nonprofit in New York City.
Preschoolers: Build a Band
Help kids invent instruments from stuff you have around the house. Put raw rice into plastic containers to make maracas. Fill some glass bottles with varying levels of water and strike gently to make a xylophone. It's a lesson in recycling and physics (different levels of water make new notes!). And trying to craft something to create music involves critical-thinking skills.
School-Age Kids: Time to Tune In
Play a song by one musician and another by a different one -- say, Dolly Parton and Duke Ellington.Then have him describe things that were the same about both as well as things that were unique to each. Supply the vocabulary for what he's noticing -- fast vs. slow tempo, high vs. low pitch, names of instruments. Being able to pick apart a sound can boost language and listening skills.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Parents magazine.
Appreciating our blessings and taking time to notice what we are grateful for helps us feel happier and reduces depression. This is a great article about how to instill gratitude in children. These helpful tips are appropriate for all ages, whether children or adults. By nurturing a sense of gratitude from an early age, your children will learn to appreciate big and small blessings.
By Ansley Roan
Teaching kids to be thankful doesn't involve guilt trips or lectures on the less fortunate, and the benefits will last longer than the turkey sandwiches. Grateful children may grow into happier adults, according to Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness and director of the Greater Good Parents program at the University of California at Berkeley. "Pioneering social scientists think that 40 percent of our happiness comes from intentional, chosen activities throughout the day. Thankfulness is not a fixed trait. It's a skill that can be cultivated, like kicking a soccer ball or speaking French," Dr. Carter says. Because Thanksgiving is high season for gratitude, it's an ideal time to talk to your children about remembering the blessings. Try these easy and interesting tips to teach your children to develop a habit of thankfulness.
Shop, Buy, and Share
Trips to the grocery store, drugstore, or toy store can be opportunities to think of others. Next time you're stocking up, encourage your children to pick one or two canned goods to donate to a Thanksgiving food drive or a food bank. Shelters also need donations of personal care items (soap, toothpaste, diapers) or new clothing (warm socks, jackets). Check with local shelters to see what they need, and have kids choose the supplies. They'll learn to think of others and start to appreciate the necessities they ordinarily take for granted. National toy drives, like Toys for Tots, provide new gifts for children. Ask your kids to imagine what children their age might want, and then help them buy it. The item could be something on their wish list or even something they already have and love, like a cherished teddy bear.
De-clutter and Donate
Encourage your children to donate toys they no longer use or clothes they've outgrown. Let them know that some things they don't need might be useful for another child. Suggest that they consider a short list of items to donate, and then bring them to a drop-off place such as the Salvation Army. Involve them in considering what they don't want anymore so they will have new appreciation for their toys and clothes. Just remember not to force it: If they're not ready to give something away, that's okay. Avoid warning the kids that they won't get something new to replace what they give away; they may associate sacrifice with loss or punishment. Instead, find other ways to cultivate a sense of gratitude and helping others.
Volunteer Your Time
Look for opportunities to volunteer as a family. Friends and neighbors may know of a group that can use the help. Serve food at nearby shelters or put together care packages for senior citizens or soldiers oversees. Show how giving time, not just money or objects, is another way of helping others and acknowledging gratitude for what you already have. Or devote time to neighbors or other family members by scheduling a group project to rake leaves for an elderly relative or cook a meal for someone who's under the weather.
Even young kids draw turkeys or learn about the Pilgrims in classrooms. Ask your child (or the teacher) about the lesson plans and build on those at home. Have little ones imagine what the Pilgrims might have been grateful for that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. They may have been grateful to be with each other or to be living in a new country. The more advanced the lesson, the more possibilities. Kids can also imagine what the Pilgrims might appreciate in your house today. They might enjoy good food and the time with family, as well as modern conveniences like heat and hot water.
Write Notes of Appreciation
Ask your kids to write a handwritten note to someone they're thankful for; if kids are too young to write, have them a draw picture instead. Ask them to consider who makes their lives better or brighter. Is it the babysitter? A favorite aunt? A family friend who always remembers birthdays? When children reflect on who they want to write to, they learn to value people in their lives who have touched them. No doubt the recipient will appreciate a note from the heart, too. Plus, you can spread the blessings by composing more than one note!
Don't Forget Family
Many parents teach their children to say thank you when they receive a gift, but family members often forget to thank each other for everyday favors. "I think we lack ways to talk about gratitude," Dr. Carter says. "My kids have picked up notions of what romantic love is from Disney movies, but they probably couldn't say a word about how Cinderella feels thankful for all that her fairy godmother has given her. We don't talk much about good things that come from other people's efforts." Set an example by thanking your children and your spouse. Saying "Thank you for cleaning your room" or "Thank you for sharing with your brother," not only lets children know that their efforts (like folding laundry or running errands) are appreciated, it also instills the idea that "thank you" is not reserved for the birthday bonanza. Children see gratitude in action, and it's good for household harmony too.
Appreciate Small Moments
Take time to appreciate the good things with your kids. Use travel time in the car as an opportunity to share something positive, perhaps by saying, "Look at the pretty leaves on that tree" or "Wasn't it fun to make that drawing in class today?" These simple conversation starters encourage children to contemplate and appreciate the blessings around them. When you tuck them into bed, ask what they're grateful for that particular day. Gradually weave these observations and questions into your time together to cultivate thankfulness.
Keep Gratitude Going
Long after the turkey is eaten and football season ends, continue to practice thankfulness throughout the year. In the summer, donate your time when charities and food banks need extra help because regular volunteers are on vacation. One of the most practical ways to inspire gratitude is also the simplest. You don't have to be involved in big projects all the time. Set aside time to name one or two things every person in the family is grateful for each day. "Researchers have found that people who practice gratitude feel considerably happier (25 percent) than those in a control group," Dr. Carter says. "They are more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, and determined. Grateful people are more likely to be both kind and helpful." Raising children with those traits would be enough to make any parent thankful.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.
Ansley Roan is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She writes about faith and spirituality, health, and parenting. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and Teen People.